Gas VS. Wood Fireplaces

fireplace denFor many people, fireplaces are an iconic part of an ideal living room setup. They satisfy a deep and unconscious craving for a connection to nature, to our past, to a source of warmth that’s almost as old as humanity itself. Some have strong associative connections with fireplaces and a sense of family, people who remember old camping trips as children, people who remember the whole family crowding around the fireplace on Christmas morning. Regardless of the reason, it is a fact that for many people fireplaces elicit special feelings. It’s not just a source of warmth for the body in the winter, it’s a source of warmth for the spirit as well.

That being said, if you are considering getting a fireplace then you’ll have navigated many different options. The market for fireplaces is more varied than ever these days and deciding on a type of fireplace, much less on a specific brand or model, can be difficult. This tip aims to make that decision easier by providing the facts about what makes gas fireplaces different than wood-burning fireplaces. We’ll go into the pros and cons of each and what you can expect when it comes to the operation and maintenance of these two very different types of home fireplace-based heating in Austin.

How They Work and How They’re Used

First, we’ll start by making the distinctions between how a gas-fueled fireplace works versus how a wood-burning fireplace works. And included in that will be a discussion of how the user operates each. Gas-fueled fireplaces undeniably have the upper hand when it comes to ease of use. Turning on a gas fireplace is as simple as flipping a switch. Just like a gas-fueled stove, one movement of your hand can bring it from cold to on fire.

As far as how they work, the design is fairly simple. Because natural gas fireplaces are designed to burn the gas efficiently, the flue gasses are cool enough to be vented through PVC pipe run through the walls. In short, no mess and push-button ease. It’s a fireplace with the utmost convenience. They radiate heat nicely and some contain fans to circulate the heat efficiently. The fire is real and works like a gas oven, with the burner hidden by ceramic logs that spread the fire and make it look like a real wood fire. Gas fireplaces burn either natural or propane gas. They burn pretty clean but do produce some carbon monoxide, so they need a chimney.

Wood fireplaces have an even simpler design but require a significant amount more time and effort on your end when it comes to use. The way it works is a simple as you can imagine. The wood logs go in the fireplace and are burned. The smoke rises up through the chimney and out of the house. The fireplace itself is made out of heat-resistant material so the chance of a house fire is nil under normal circumstances. Just make sure there are no drapes or other highly flammable material around the fireplace. As far as use goes, it’s a little more involved than a gas fireplace. Each time you want to start the fire, there is no simple switch like other types of fireplaces. You will have to build the fire and be responsible for seeing it properly and safely put out. This means loading it up with wood. Starting the fire and then safely putting the fire out when you’re finished. For many people though, this isn’t a downside as much as a plus. Those who enjoy the act of starting their own house warming fire and keeping it stoked and healthy will find that there’s no way a gas fireplace can compare.

Costs Involved

When you’re talking about how much a fireplace costs you’ve got to consider both the original investment, meaning the cost of the unit itself and the cost of installation, the cost of fuel, and the cost of maintenance. First, we’ll look at installation costs.

The cost of purchase and installation is likely going to be a major factor in the final decision of what type of fireplace to get for many people. Luckily, both wood and gas fireplaces are generally affordable. Gas fireplaces come as either built-ins or inserts with a variety of different price tags. Built-in gas units may run up to $8,000 after installation, and most closely mirror a traditional wood-burning unit because they are installed into the structure of your home. This is generally only an option for new houses being constructed and not as a retrofit addition. Gas inserts are similar to traditional fireplaces however one is simply installed into a pre-existing firebox. Expect to pay up to $4,000 for a gas insert after installation. One perk of each is that gas built-ins and inserts may bypass the need for a chimney, as many built-ins can be direct-vented and inserts operate from the home’s main gas lines.

Wood fireplaces are a different matter. When shopping around, you’ll find inserts, freestanding wood stoves and built-in wood fireplaces. These are unique as you will need a working chimney for ventilation. Expect to invest up to $5000 (including installation of the unit, venting system and/or fire-resistant flooring) for a freestanding stove, which can be placed anywhere in the room. You may instead opt to spend up to $10,000 for a built-in wood fireplace. Remember that built-ins are constructed from scratch, so this price tag includes the hardware of the unit, labor involved for installation—constructing a chimney if your home doesn’t have one, gutting an old fireplace if you’re replacing one, etc.—and surround accents like bricks and the mantel. This means that for almost any type of wood fireplace, it is much more convenient if it is built along with new house construction.

When it comes to fuel, generally wood fireplaces are going to run cheaper. The advantage here is fairly clear. It’s cheaper to buy logs of wood than it is to have gas used up through your houses gas line every time you turn on the fireplace. Natural gas isn’t expensive, relatively, but it’s more expensive than the cost of a few logs. This advantage increases even further if you have access to wood in nature and not just at your local hardware store.

But when we move over to maintenance the advantage clearly shifts in favor of gas. The aftermath of a wood-fueled fire is not fun to clean. If you’ve opted for a wood stove, its catalytic combustor must be checked three times annually to ensure that it is breaking down fuel safely and efficiently. The soot, ash and burned-out logs are messy and spread very easily. Creosote, a byproduct of wood-fueled fires can build up in your chimney and need to be removed by a professional. If you don’t regularly maintain your chimney when you have a wood-fueled fireplace, you risk a chimney fire.

Gas fireplaces are as easy to maintain as they are to operate. No messy cleanup and no sweeping are necessary. Maintaining gas fireplaces, be they built-ins or inserts, often requires only small, do-it-yourself steps. Direct-vented gas units don’t need a chimney, so inspections and cleaning are out. One step to take, however, is to have the venting system checked out to ensure safety and maximum efficiency. You’ll want to be sure that venting pipes are not clogged with dust or debris or are leaking gas.

Additionally, be mindful of the condition of the ceramic logs. Logs can accumulate dirt or even break from time to time, and you can check this and use appropriate cleaning agents to resolve issues. Also, if your model has a fan to spread heat, keep an eye on it. This might be an exception to the DIY nature of gas fireplace maintenance, and if the fan malfunctions, it’s time to call in an expert. The special touch of a professional is always awesome to have because of expertise and thoroughness. But if you can maintain your fireplace alone, that’s a definite perk.

Fireplace Experience

In our final section of the pros and cons of a gas fireplace versus a wood fireplace, we’re going to take a holistic look at the experience of using a fireplace, from the aesthetic to the ambiance to the process of keeping it lit.

When it comes to the external look, not of the actual guts of the fireplace where the wood or gas burns but the outside and surrounding elements, you’ve got a lot of options and no real distinction between a gas and wood fireplace. When you’re talking about built-in fireplaces you can pretty much get any look you want regardless of what fuel the fireplace burns. The inside however is a different story. For some people, the look of an authentic wood burning in the fireplace is an integral part of the fireplace experience. It’s just not the same looking at some ceramic chunks formed into the shape of wood with an artificial-looking fire shooting up from behind them.

Granted, gas log fireplaces are as easy to use as opening a valve, but something’s missing. Sure, it generates heat and looks like a “traditional” fireplace, but it’s just not the same experience. You’re missing out on the sounds, the snaps and crackle as the fire burns and eats away at the wood. You’re missing the nostalgic and rich smell of burning wood. Of course, for some this bonus, the experience is offset by the inconvenience of having to go out and buy wood, drag it in the house, load it into the fireplace and light it on fire. But for others, all of that is part of the authentic experience and they wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all a matter of preference when it comes down to it.

Fireplaces and Heating Repair in Austin

Ultimately, the decision between gas and wood fireplaces is going to come down to personal preference. For those of you who want a fireplace mainly for things such as the added value to the home and the look and design of the living room, who might turn it on a few times during the winter but aren’t looking for an authentic wood-burning experience, gas is probably the way to go. It’s easy to run and maintain and looks great in a living room. For those of you who want the full fireplace wood-burning experience and enjoy the care and deliberateness of tending a fire and all the added sensation of the smell and sounds, only a wood fireplace will fully satisfy.

Regardless, you’ll eventually need some kind of maintenance done on your fireplace and that’s when it comes time to call a professional heater repair company in Austin. When it comes to any kind of home heating in Austin, AC Express is the place to call. We do Austin heater repair all around the area, from Hutto and Manor to Pflugerville and Round Rock. For top-notch Austin heating service, call today!